As far as socio-sexual meltdowns go, the Ashley Maddison debacle appeared to be a bit of a non-event. A couple of fake identities were released as proof of widespread hackery to a news-hungry media adrift in the doldrums of the silly-season, who then produced more hackery of a different stripe. On the female side there was much thinly disguised Schadenfreude at the prospect of millions of marriages thrown into disarray (but not, presumably, their own partnership arrangements), stuff about the ‘groin-cupping sleazoids’ and even one journalist who could not abide these websites’ ‘incitement to mortal sin’, bringing down the Wrath of Jehovah on the heads of these philanderers, as well.
Thirty-five years ago on June 7 1980, Henry Miller died at his home in Pacific Palisades, California. His had been an extraordinary life, and he left behind a body of work of unique character and quality. Sadly, in the popular mind (if that term can be applied to the mainstream media commentariat) Miller is referenced too often as a notorious author of smutty ramblings. In reality he was in the first rank of radical 20th century writers, and many of his books would qualify as ‘the great American novel’, were they merely novels rather than semi-autobiographical works of polemic and social critique. Lawrence Durrell and Norman Mailer were both unreserved in their admiration of the meaning and power of his work.
I brought three books with me when I moved to Paris on a £14 Megabus: one of them was The Story of O. I'd squirrel away in the predictably unheated top-floor bedroom-cum-kitchen-cum-occasional bathroom (I would say "garret", but it'll make me sound even more of a nob) and read it, while I waited for Ab Fab to stream. Published in France in 1954 by the appropriately monikered Jean-Jacques Pauvert, it's a dirty great romp of chains, castles, masks and leather, and its author was a 47-year-old editorial secretary, whose boyfriend had mouthed off that no woman was capable of writing an erotic novel. Anne Desclos, noted variously as 'prudish' and 'nun-like', wrote under a pen-name at Gallimard Publishers but invented a new one – Pauline Réage – for O, which became an immediate success, was banned in court, and whose author only revealed herself 40 years post-publication. I believe the phrase is "slam dunk".
Fans of Bridget Jones and Girls, rejoice: there's a new kid on the block. Melissa Pimentel's Age, Sex, Location is a wonderfully fresh romp through the modern dating scene, where one wrong left swipe could throw all chances of happiness down the pan. Lauren is 28 and is emphatically not looking for love. Recently divorced from her college sweetheart, she's moved from Portland to the Big Smoke and into a dingy room in Old Street.
The legalised brothel issue has long been a favourite British media topic; and one to which our legislators and moralists of all stripes frequently return. In recent times it has been given added momentum by the trafficking problem. Early in 2014, egged on by commercial interests eager to turn the area into more luxury apartments and sheltered by Articles 52 and 53 of The Sexual Offences Act, police raided a number of the modest Soho flats used by prostitutes and their maids. These sex workers were abused, turned out of their places of business and, it is alleged, had their money confiscated.
Sun Dan, my oldest friend, is a reflection of the former me. She’s content to take whatever this place has to throw at her – thick clouds of smoke; a kid pissing right beside her sandaled foot; the guy at the next table sneezing into the back of her head as he turns round to spare his lunch - all without standing up and shouting: “This is not fucking good enough!” Right now, though, I need Dan to understand; I need her to see that this restaurant, these people, this city – none of them are good enough.
Dermot and I broke up over football. That is what I like to tell people. I can even pinpoint the match that set everything off. Norwich City vs. Man U. The argument took off when Dermot checked the score on his phone in the middle of sex. With me. I always switch my phone off during sex but I’m seven years older than Dermot, who is twenty-nine. I remember unplugging the landline in my first rented flat before closing my bedroom door and facing a boy. I still find phone jacks a bit sexual. Maybe Dermot’s dismay about Norwich losing contributed to his dwindling of erection. Maybe not. It’s too late to ask now.
One nice thing about Josh having more money than God these days, even if the rest of it is colossally weird: whenever they hang out now, the food is always amazing. "Remember in high school when we used to cut seventh and go to Taco Bell all the time?" Natalie asks, knifing a slice of cheese off a block that probably cost about as much as this semester’s grad stipend. They're sitting on the back porch of Josh's cabin, sun just starting to sink and Lake Michigan glittering through a cluster of pine trees, a long pathway snaking down to a dock.
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, is often thought to be the quintessential Restoration man, in terms of his debauched lifestyle and squandered brilliance. When he began one of his most famous poems, A Ramble In St James’s Park, with the statement that ‘Much wine had passed, with grave discourse Of who fucks who, and who does worse’, his aristocratic readers, recognising themselves as those who participated in such ‘grave discourse’, would have sniggered and enjoyed the allusion.
I have a lot of male friends. The nice kind. The kind that want a girlfriend, get sweaty-palmed before a date, and are giddy when it goes well. So I’m constantly baffled when, after a first date, I get the traditional phone-call run-down and they are disappointed because it ‘all went wrong’.